On March 21, President Joe Biden finally followed through on his pledge to designate Avi Kwa Ame as a new national monument, over 100 days after promising to do so. “It’s a place of reverence, it’s a place of spirituality, it’s a place of healing,” said Biden. “And now it will be recognized for the significance it holds and be preserved forever.” The designation, which includes provisions for tribal co-stewardship, will protect more than 500,000 acres of desert landscape in southern Nevada that is currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management, including Avi Kwa Ame, a granite mountain that is the origin place for 10 Yuman-speaking tribes. The area, which includes habitat for the desert tortoise, Gila monsters and Joshua trees, has been a target for solar and wind development.  

“Since the beginning of the Biden and Harris administration, the president has demonstrated the commitment to respect tribal nations and our nation-to-nation relationship,” said Fort Mojave Tribal Chairman Tim Williams at the designation ceremony in D.C. “Under his leadership we have a seat at the table.”

Biden also designated Castner National Monument in Texas, an almost 7,000-acre expanse of high desert east of the Franklin Mountains, not far from El Paso. With these designations, following his announcement of Camp Hale National Monument in Colorado last fall, Biden has now created three national monuments.

Despite the contentious nature of national monuments during Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s terms, Avi Kwa Ame National Monument garnered a long list of supporters, ranging from every tribe in Nevada and Arizona to the Nevada towns close to the monument, including Boulder City, Laughlin and Searchlight, along with Nevada legislators, both of Nevada’s U.S. Congress members and over a dozen environmental groups. Ashley Hemmers, tribal administrator for the Fort Mojave Tribe, says much of their success came from building relationships over time, and leading with tribal traditional knowledge. 

The Avi Kwa Ame proclamation includes a provision for a memorandum of understanding of co-stewardship between the Interior Department and tribal nations in the area.

Tribes in the area have a history of collective action: In the 1990s, they successfully worked with environmental groups and local residents to protest and prevent a nuclear waste dump in Ward Valley, an area just south of the new national monument boundaries. “For my people, we believe that when you come to the Mojave and it speaks to you, then you are automatically going to want to hold it in high regard,” Hemmers said in an interview earlier this year. “And so we’ve really taken the approach through our leadership to be able to share that and facilitate that and work with anyone who shares that same vision.”

According to the White House, the Avi Kwa Ame proclamation includes a provision for a memorandum of understanding of co-stewardship between the Interior Department and tribal nations in the area. That means that tribes will have a hand in managing the monument, or parts of it. This aligns with the administration’s policies over the past few years to prioritize tribal oversight of ancestral lands that are now managed as public lands

Hemmers says for her and other tribal members, Avi Kwa Ame is a living landscape, meaning that it comes with responsibility. “When we think about protection, we think of it through a lens of respect,” Hemmers says. “And so if we can teach those things to people who are now moving in this space, then it’s not just ours, the mountain isn’t just for Mojave, it’s for everyone to protect.”

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